With all the talk about “election integrity” and legislation being proposed in state houses regarding voting, it appears that “getting it right” is foremost on lawmakers’ minds as the calendar speeds toward the 2024 presidential election.
So why are legislatures leaving a nonpartisan organization devoted to “assisting states to improve the accuracy of America’s voter rolls and increase access to voter registration for all eligible citizens?”
The Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) was created in 2012 due to the challenges in maintaining the accuracy of voter registration records. While many government agencies have updated their systems to take advantage of modern technology, voter registration systems remain largely based on 19th century tools, such as handwriting on paper forms and postal mail. The inherent inefficiencies in the system result in unnecessarily high costs, and make it difficult to keep voter rolls clean throughout the country.
According to the ERIC website, for example, 1 in 8 voter registration records in America contain a serious error. In addition, more than 51 million citizens, or 25 percent, remain unregistered to vote.
As of November, there were 32 states plus the District of Columbia who were members of ERIC, including battleground states such as Pennsylvania, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin.
Now that list has shrunk considerably, with Iowa and Ohio joining Florida, West Virginia, Missouri, Louisiana and Alabama in dropping their memberships.
What are the reasons for these defections? It’s not easy to put your finger on just one thing.
Each member of ERIC submits its voter registration and motor vehicle licensee data. The data includes names, addresses, date-of-birth, last four digits of the social security number. Private data such as date of birth and the last four digits of the Social Security number are protected using a cryptographic one-way hash and then transmitted to ERIC.
In return, each member state receives reports that show voters who have moved within their state, voters who have moved out of state, voters who have died, duplicate registrations in the same state, and individuals who are potentially eligible to vote but are not yet registered. States may request a report identifying voters who appear to have voted twice within the state in the prior federal election, voted in more than one state in the prior federal election, or who voted on behalf of a deceased voter in the prior federal election.
The cost to states? New members pay a one-time joining fee of $25,000. These fees are generally held in reserve for large periodic expenses, for example IT upgrades. Each member state also pays annual dues, which are determined by a formula approved by the ERIC membership. The formula includes citizen voting age population as a factor. States with large populations pay more than states with smaller populations. Annual member dues for 2022-23 range from about $26,000 to about $116,000. ERIC’s annual budget for FY 2022-23 is approximately $1,538,000.
The program has become a target of the right-wing media, including one that refers to ERIC as “essentially a left wing voter registration drive disguised as voter roll clean up.” Others point to the startup contribution from investor George Soros, or the involvement of Democratic election lawyer David Becker as a major player.
Last Friday, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) announced his intention to withdraw his state from ERIC, saying his concerns including amending the organization’s bylaws that “membership should only consist of member states, who answer to the voters and taxpayers they represent,” removing ex-officio membership positions and permitting member states to opt-out of requirements that they do not deem “necessary or relevant,” were not acknowledged.
“I cannot justify the use of Ohio’s tax dollars for an organization that seems intent on rejecting meaningful accountability, publicly maligning my motives, and waging a relentless campaign of misinformation about this effort,” LaRose concluded.
Yet back in February, LaRose was singing a different tune.
“But I can tell you that (ERIC) is one of the best fraud-fighting tools that we have when it comes to actually catching people that try to vote in multiple states, when it comes to maintaining the accuracy of our voter rolls by removing those that move out of state. That’s a thing that ERIC helps provide. And so to me, it’s a tool that has provided great benefit for us and we’re going to continue to use it.”
Earlier in the month, Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft (R) cited ERIC’s refusal to “require member states to participate in addressing multi-state voter fraud” and for allowing a “hyper-partisan individual” to be a non-voting member of its governance board, among other concerns. Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd (R) and West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner (R) expressed similar concerns, with Warner objecting to the “opportunity for partisanship in voter registration and list maintenance.”
In a broad sense, ERIC helps organizations maintain their voter rolls by issuing reports on voters who may have moved either within the state or between member states, died, or potentially voted in two different states, requiring members to conduct list maintenance with that information. ERIC also produces data on people who may be eligible to register but haven’t, and requires states to contact those would-be voters.
Basically, improving the communication between states to ensure that voter rolls are kept up to date.
Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate said failed recommended changes don’t “allow each member to do what’s best for their respective state. Ultimately, the departure of several key states is going to impact the ability for ERIC to be an effective tool for the State of Iowa,” he said. “My office will be recommending resigning our membership from ERIC.”
Pennsylvania joined ERIC in 2015.
“Improving the accuracy of Pennsylvania’s voter registration database is a priority for the Department of State. That’s why we have been actively working with stakeholders and other states to find the right tool to achieve that goal. The best option we have found is ERIC,” said Marian K. Schneider, who was a deputy secretary of state at the time and now is the senior voting rights policy counsel for the ACLU of Pennsylvania.
Voter rolls became a major policy platform of unsuccessful Republican candidate for governor Doug Mastriano (R-Franklin).
After the 2022 primary, Mastriano told the conservative news organization Newsmax why he thought his registration reset was needed, though he didn’t provide evidence.
“There’s still a lot of dead on the rolls, and what have you, and there’s ghost phantom voters that we found, as well, at various addresses,” he said. “So we’re going to take that very seriously and move really hard. Basically we have about a year to get that right before the 2024 presidential election.”
But election officials say the state’s extensive processes and tools actually keep Pennsylvania’s rolls accurate and well-maintained.
State and county officials removed 84,577 deceased voters and 180,918 out-of-state movers from the voter rolls in 2020, the latest year for which numbers are available, according to the Department of State’s annual voter registration report
MAGA GOP does not and never has believed in and defended democracy. They don’t give a shit about accurate voting. They only want whatever will give them POWER.
Republicans are attacking ERIC while real culprit in the downfall of our democracy is ALEC. ALEC is the organization that was set up by the Koch Brothers and other far right conservatives that was the training ground for most of the white male Republicans that hold state and federal legislative seats across the US. ALEC brings them in and trains them on double speak, propaganda and how to draft legislation to create the oligarchy we have become that allows government control via financial means by the 1%ers.
There is absolutely no evidence despite lawsuits and lots of right wing media hype and now devastating litigation by Dominion against Fox and assorted individuals questioning Dominion with no foundation. All of this negativity will only weaken the democratic process and feed cynicism.